Aesthetics: A Calling for Creating Beauty
A reflection on the abstract concept of aesthetics and their importance as a design catalyzer.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the aesthetics of my life. For some weird reason, I severely dislike things that just don't look right. I'm the kind whose productivity and well-being drop dramatically if an aesthetically pleasing environment (natural or artificial) isn't surrounding me.
But I guess I'm not the only one who feels like this. There's a reason why the Interior Design is a $24B a year industry in the US alone. People seem to care deeply about aesthetically altering their physical spaces to express ideas or evoke feelings.
It shouldn't be surprising that humans also extend these expectations to their digital experiences. After all, our attention is slowly shifting from physical spaces such as our homes to the digital spaces created by our phones, laptops, smartwatches, smart TVs, connected devices, and more.
We interact with computers the same way we interact with other environmental elements. We perceive those elements through their capacity to improve our lives physically, emotionally, or cognitively. And aesthetics, just like in the physical world, is at play in how we relate to our digital world.
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As the world becomes increasingly digitalized, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how important aesthetics is in creating a positive user experience. A product's visual design can hugely impact its success or failure, as it communicates to users what the product is about and whether they should trust it.
Consumers now expect aesthetically pleasing digital experiences that look good and feel natural and intuitive. Companies have taken notice and are investing heavily in ensuring their products meet these expectations, as customers are willing to pay for quality design that meets their needs.
Conversely, designers increasingly realize that the aesthetics of a product play an essential part in defining customer satisfaction and loyalty. High-value aesthetics have the power to communicate ideas and convey emotions. They are the language that builds trust between people and brands.
It seems clear that we live in a world that demands functional and beautiful products.
However, many still argue whether you need pleasing aesthetics in the face of good function. Why would you care how it looks if you have a fully functional product that accomplishes the task it was created for?
Craiglist: Function expressed through minimal aesthetics.
One typical example I have heard in this debate is Craiglist. Many think Craiglist is a great example of an excellent product with poor aesthetics. Apparently, Craiglist can be successful without thoughtful visuals.
But is this conclusive proof that aesthetics is secondary to function?
First, aesthetics aren't necessarily about creating an exuberant visual design or an elevated visual experience. Sometimes aesthetics are just about simplicity and consistency. In the case of Craiglist, it's evident that there's nothing terribly inconsistent or aesthetically unpleasing.
Craigslist is just the type of experience built with the bare minimum in aesthetics. A minimal exercise in color, typography, and white space. Simple and perhaps ugly for some, but still aesthetically within spec
Now, the debate that I'm talking about would be an actual productive debate if, as designers, we could agree on some minimum level of aesthetics that can inform functionality. Still, the problem is that design tends to be more complex than that.
There are many situations where aesthetics inform and dramatically influence function. Aesthetics informing the function is a potentially innovative design philosophy, as you will see in my following example.
Pagani Huayra: Aesthetics that influence function.
Horacio Pagani is the inventor of Pagani, one of the most revolutionary supercar constructors in the world. Although the beauty of the Pagani supercars could be debated, the amount of design and engineering devoted to creating these cars is undeniable.
Pagani's design philosophy isn't to create cars but to create art pieces. Pagani's designs have an intense tension between form and function. Specific aesthetical ideas prevail over functional ideas forcing the function to adapt to the form.
This usually results in incredible engineering challenges and innovations.
Pagani was working on the Pagani Huayra, one of his most anticipated models, when he faced a big problem.
Pagani believed that what made the Huayra unique was its symmetrical front-to-rear aesthetics. However, a car with these performance and weight characteristics would require a massive rear spoiler, which in Pagani's eyes, was a non-negotiable aspect of his vision for the Huayra.
To preserve the aesthetical vision of the car, Pagani invented a complex active aerodynamics system that replaced a classic spoiler with in-chassis flaps placed at the rear and front of the car.
Pagani's ability to bring his aesthetical vision and desired function together is an invaluable lesson on how design is an exercise of balancing opposing forces.
Design aesthetics to exercise creative freedom.
I believe design is an art where you try to harmonize humans' goals with multiple naturally incongruent systems such as computers, spaces, or communities.
From that perspective, I have always believed that what separates great designers from the rest is their ability to channel their creative energy into designs that naturally display that harmony.
Of course, not everything we do as designers allow us to express our creative energy. But when it comes to aesthetics, they are undoubtedly one of design's most pure expressions of creativity. Aesthetics allow designers to play, explore, create, and shape a tangible experience that represents a value or communicates an idea in relation to the world.
Aesthetics is an exercise of creative freedom but requires a profound understanding of human behavior and connection to the environment. It forces designers to reflect deeply if their creative visions represent the values and appreciation for beauty of the collective.
Therefore, aesthetics should be considered a foundational element of one's design creativity and capacity to manifest value through design. It's a way to share the intimate nature of our conscious experience through the physicality of our creations while still applying a strict protocol of considerations.
In that sense, I consider aesthetics to be the substrate that unites our individual experiences with the world and with the conscious experience of others. Even when we clash about it through our subjective perspectives and we call beautiful what others call ugly.
Aesthetics as a psychological expression.
If I haven't convinced you of the importance of aesthetics in design by this point, I don't blame you. We live in a world that has bastardized the profound meaning of the ideas that make us human and has converted them into operational fuel to push forward our economic goals.
Whether good or bad, it's a matter of personal preference or beliefs. As someone who has spent many years working for large corporations, I appreciate the impact and reach these jobs have provided to my work. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that by taking this route, I have traded some of my creative freedom for the opportunity to work and design for more complex and wide-reaching challenges.
Unfortunately, in our contemporary world, design seems to be just another aspect of following a corporate strategy and not a truly creative endeavor. We tend to lose ourselves in this process and start optimizing for what we believe is expected from us and not what we believe is best for the world.
Exercising our aesthetical visions seems like an appropriate antidote to the despair of a heavily industrialized world.
Aesthetic expression has been a significant outlet to liberate my creative energy and express myself in the tangible world. It has been a catalyst for unlocking my most profound ideas and has allowed me to understand the motivations of those who work as artists.
I have slowly come to the realization that life's purpose is often about finding one's art. Finding a way to express our complex mind worlds and represent them in our creative endeavors.
Aesthetics happens to be an idea that elegantly integrates into this perspective. It has helped me to embrace the beauty of life, and it has, in many opportunities, revealed the deep connection between our physical and psychological worlds.
It’s a fundamental aspect of who we are and how we exist in this mysterious world, and therefore it should always be embraced, protected, and cherished.
How to Learn Aesthetics
If you feel in tune with the importance of aesthetics but do not fully understand it, here is a self-learning curriculum to learn the most important ideas about aesthetics:
1. Understand the fundamentals: Learn about visual design, color theory, and typography basics. These will be your foundation for understanding aesthetics.
2. Study famous historical works and go to museums: Research a few classic examples of fine art pieces and analyze their visual composition in detail. Try to figure out what makes them beautiful and how the artist conveyed emotion through the work.
3. Practice: Put your knowledge into practice by creating simple experiments with design elements and color combinations. This is a great way to test different approaches and enhance aesthetic sensibilities.
4. Experiment with different media: Aesthetics can be expressed in many ways beyond visual design. Explore different art forms such as photography, music, and even writing to expand your understanding of aesthetics.
5. Follow examples from modern artists and designers: Keep an eye on what contemporary artists and designers are creating today and try to apply their techniques in your work. This is a great way to learn about the latest trends and keep up with the most recent developments in aesthetics.
Philosophical and Abstract Learning
1. Understand the philosophy of aesthetics: Aesthetics is a complex concept that involves more than just visual design. Read about the philosophical meanings behind aesthetic expression and try to understand what inspires people to create beautiful things. Read Plato's thoughts on Beauty or Kant's insights on the sublime.
2. Explore the psychology of aesthetics: Try to figure out how different people react to beautiful things and why specific works evoke strong emotions in viewers. Understanding the psychological aspects of aesthetics can help you design more meaningful experiences for your users.
3. Analyze the sociology of aesthetics: Consider how societies have adopted specific aesthetic standards over time and why they have become popular in different contexts. Analyzing the social dynamics behind aesthetic preferences can help you create aesthetic value in your designs that resonate with a specific audience.
4. Examine the influence of technology: As technology has advanced, it has changed how people perceive and interact with aesthetics. Understanding how digital tools have shaped our understanding of beauty can help you create innovative designs for modern users.
5. Finally, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment: Aesthetics is a broad concept with many interpretations. Don’t hesitate to think outside the box and test unorthodox ideas regarding aesthetics. Keep an open mind and always explore
“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”
― Alfred North Whitehead
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Excellent write up, the great debate of form following function. In such a fast paced industry such as tech, would both sit closely aligned? All too often once the function is complete and sales are met, is there necessity to concentrate further on form... As a designer I'd argue yes, if we are to differentiate and stay ahead of the game. All very controversial nonetheless, thank you.
Thank you for the terrific write-up. I passionately believe that aesthetics help translate perspectives into tangible and efficient products. Your article vitalized my beliefs around design and aesthetic!